By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I went to Costco with my children yesterday. Even without eight year olds in tow, sticking to a shopping list at Costco requires a discipline I normally lack. With kids, my only goal is to get out of there with just three or four unnecessary items.
I’m content with small and simple impulse purchases: a double pair of wool socks say or a decade’s worth of white tissue paper. But not my kids. For them, bigger is better and enormous, lit up and in bright colors is best of all.
“Can we buy it? Can we buy it?” They chanted in unison, running laps up and down the isles of Christmas décor.
The gold-painted Styrofoam bust of Santa with reindeer head impressed them, as did the reproduction mercury glass Christmas tree, but what really sent them into paroxysms of craving was an inflatable plastic sleigh complete with smiling, red cheeked plastic Santa riding and waving, his gift bag overflowing with offerings.
Much to my horror, light up inflatable yard art is their version of Monet’s water lilies.
“WOW! This one is SOOOOO cool! Can we buy it? Can we?”
“Uhhh…No,” I said, scanning the environment for something to distract them with. Where were roving bands of circus monkeys when you needed them?
“Because,” I said, “I don’t buy this kind of stuff. Listen guys, when you grow up and get your own home then you can get any kind of holiday décor you like. So….What would you buy first?”
This was just what they needed. They pondered, they pointed, and they finally decided that, just to be on the safe side, they would buy one of everything.
“That way we will always have it if we want it!” Benji chirruped happily.
Ah, human nature. We want, we want, we want.
As children we struggle with impulsive craving and as adults, we still do. How hard it is—for all of us, I claim no immunity—in the face of sudden, strong craving to hold out, to practice restraint for a less immediate but ultimately more fulfilling intention.
Once I interviewed an interior designer for a story. She told me that as people developed more sophisticated tastes, they tend to like color less and texture more. This woman’s living room was a jewel box of beige and ecru cashmere with Venetian mask accents and Faberge painted silk umbrella lights. In the kitchen richly veined marble and granite countertops and brushed stainless steel appliances shone under halogen track lights. In this carefully edited environment, layers upon layers of beautiful things selected individually and blended together with intention created a scene that was opulent and personal.
Strangely, outside of the living room and kitchen were hundreds upon hundreds of guns. Her husband, an avid hunter, collector and internet dealer of rifles had them lined up along the walls and across the floors of the master bedroom, recreational room and storage areas. The effect was jarring, like seeing a live hand grenade in a museum.
Her husband’s compulsive gun buying habit was a prime example of the overwhelming effect impulse can have over intention.
For our part we left Costco with a few unplanned purchases, none necessary. We got the pleasure of acting on impulse without the pain of wild overspending or of crowding our limited storage with hideous holiday inflatables. For that I am grateful.